Clown for a New Day

Clown for a New Day
Dagwood might make it in today's emasculated circus

Friday, July 29, 2011

Coney Baloney: KLS Drops "Comp" Word on Vidbel Fizzle; Scream Zone a Riot; Pugh & Bale's Heaviest Show on Earth!

The Steeplechase at Coney Island's Scream Zone. Coney photos by Librado Romero/The New York Times
A little disoriented with
that dizzy headline up there? Coney Island is spinning wildly between turkeys and thrillers these troubled days. First the circus that wasn't. KLS Dad, our NY stringer, sends unvarnished feedback on his trip to the Vidbel Circus. Once he secured his $10 ticket and got up to the front door, via a parched patch of "dry hell," aka: "piles of debris," he settled into the tent, high on watching the advertised riding act with the name "Zoppe." He enjoyed the lyra turn executed by the woman who sold him his ticket in the "guard house," her name Susan Vidbel. In fact, he rather enjoyed a lot of the show, including a spirited singing ringmaster in Mr. Aston -- if only the equestrians he went to see had showed up. Sharing his let down with Sir Ashton, KLS was told there was "no business," (surprise?) . Here comes the kicker, introducing a sobering new question to our on-going wonderment about how circuses fill up the seats ...

When even free tickets will no longer work ... Well, KLS noted, in conversation with Mr. Ashton, that 200 people in the audience was not so bad. No, not at all. That's what I've seen usually at Carson and Barnes and Vargas. "Most of them were comp!" replied Ashton. "WOW. So sad," e-sighs KLS; Yes, I feel your pain, KLS-TV. Our crushed New Yorker reports the show was ill-advertised. But, out at Coney, he came away with a captivating stream of footage making a strong case for the new Scream Zone, about which I knew nothing, having a terrifically perilous pulse, an almost surreal style, a wacky thriller rhythm. "Hey ... I love it all!" says he. And I can see why, says I. Just watching the deviously off-kilter rides makes me want to go out there sometimes and play spooked-out spectator ...

The Soarin' Eagle. Maybe Coney has a new future afterall.

Cole Bros. Pitching Sheer Weight. On a cheerful video put out by Lane Talburt, agreeably narrated by his wife, Martha (great team, they should go out on the advance for a circus!), John Pugh gets a thoroughly postive pass, no uneasy questions asked, on his skill as a survivor. What's so interesting is how he and Elvin Bale seem convinced of their showmanship. Acts that over in Europe take "a half hour" (oh, really?) are trimmed down to a few minutes under the Cole tent, in order to make for a faster show. Or, if I may inelegantly ask, would that be to allow for more time pushing elephant rides and concessions? When I caught the show this year, a crowd of maybe 200 waited for half an hour for the program to begin. We watched a barely patronized elephant ride in Pugh's oddly amorphous non-ring setting. Sorry to pop feel-good balloons, but I long for the older Cole Bros. tent, Jonny -- it had symmetry; it had rings, it had those wonderful, yes, smaller wooden chairs. I'll grant this, that the newer chairs are better, but the seating configuration, almost identical to Ringling's under canvas at Coney, does not encircle the amorphous performance area. Nor do the fork lift operations add any desired atmosphere to the chopped up program. Do these guy share hard hats? ... I just don't get it.

Waiting for the Heaviest Show on Earth to begin: Cole Bros., the first half hour. (Pardon the blurry photo; My camera didn't want to be there.)

John and Elvin seem proud of how heavy their show is. How much "weight" it carries. They evidently love moving a ton of equipment. They claim to have the largest tent of any circus out there. Somebody might inform them that weight does equate with "great," not in the new century. Americans, yes, once counted the number of elephants, of tent poles and wagons. They don't anymore.

I'm sorry the Talburts could not have dug a little deeper. Perhaps Pugh is so protected by the fans from any honest feedback, and never gets objectively reviewed, such that he has little reason to doubt his arguably, how do I say this -- questionable decisions. Even I can be collegial.

Scream Zone is feeling more exciting the more I think about it. Don't know how heavy it weighs in, but it looks like a riot -- oops, not that kind of a riot...

And that's a reckless wrap. Blame it on KLS Dad.

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